WHAT NEXT? After a Grand Départ that exceeded the most optimistic of expectations thanks to Yorkshire putting on a spectacular show for the world which depicted God’s own county at its most alluring, the challenge now is to create a lasting legacy that recognises cycling’s benefits to society.
It is a mission that could not have a better platform after a defining weekend in this county’s rich history in which spectators turned out in their millions to watch the Tour de France, the world’s biggest annual sporting event, race past iconic landmarks and create evocative images which will last a lifetime. Has Yorkshire ever looked so stunning?
This unique carnival of colour and cacophony of noise was summed up by the response of many members of the peloton when they spoke to Team Sky’s Geraint Thomas and told the rider, who hails from Wales, that he “should be very proud to be British” after a Grand Départ without parallel.
They were right. Yes, this was a very Yorkshire event – the Tour has never seen such creative use of yellow jerseys in its 111-year history – but it was also a landmark occasion for British sport because it showed the extent to which the whole country has embraced cycling and recognised its wider role as a force for good, even if Mark Cavendish’s high- speed crash in Harrogate was not the fairytale finish envisaged and anticipated by so many. His determination to remount his bicycle and cross the finishing line, despite a badly injured shoulder, spoke volumes about his personality as a sportsman and what the crowd support meant to him.
One conversation from the wall of people that created such a spectacular sight epitomised the true meaning of this event. A Leeds family learned about the intricacies of the Tour from devotees who had travelled from Pembrokeshire, Italy and France to catch a glimpse of their heroes. They wanted to support Yorkshire’s Grand Départ – they felt that it was their civic duty to do so – but they now intend to take up cycling and even pedal to those hilltop destinations which resembled the Pyrenees and Alps as fans urged the peloton up these punishing climbs. They’re indicative of the enthusiastic supporters who must not be lost to cycling as the cavalcade heads to London today – and France tomorrow – after the greatest ever Grand Départ.
The encouraging sign is that this is not likely to be the case because so many organisations, and individuals, staked their credibility on not just staging a Tour to remember but converting a new generation of people to cycling.
Already British Cycling has a packed programme of events and the inaugural Tour of Yorkshire, a three-day race set to be begin next May, will provide a perfect platform for inspiring a generation.
It is also paramount that the partnerships forged by Welcome to Yorkshire and local authorities continue to gather momentum – the weekend’s events offered ample proof of what is achievable when the county pulls together.
And, in doing so, the powers-that-be need to remember that the most important individuals of all are those people who went to extraordinary lengths, and in unprecedented numbers, to welcome the world to Yorkshire and show that this is a forward-looking county which is now brimming with ambition and positivity.
In the driving seat: £1bn boost to region’s economy
NOW BACK to reality, where the momentum created by the Grand Départ is, thankfully, spilling over into the political arena and the growing realisation that the North – and Yorkshire in particular – needs to be put in the driving seat when it comes to engineering a new era of prosperity.
This is illustrated by the Government’s commitment today to provide £1bn to kickstart a number of ‘growth deals’ across the region. Beneficiaries include long-overdue transport improvements in Leeds; funding for skills training so Hull and East Yorkshire can exploit the Humber’s green energy revolution; a new academy in South Yorkshire to support the glass industry and support for a business park in York.
These are all schemes that will help Yorkshire to attract more private industry and enterprise in the future – the most critical component of any recovery. David Cameron’s pronouncements also re-inforce Chancellor George Osborne’s game-changing speech when he promised to transform the North into an “economic powerhouse”.
Yet, while Mr Cameron is right to empower the North so it can enjoy the autonomy already afforded to Scotland and Wales, today’s schemes would not be possible without the Treasury being prepared to release the funds in question.
The challenge is making sure that this process continues after the next election – and that this region has the necessary structures in place so that this money is spent effectively and efficiently.